Saturday, April 07, 2007

Robin Hood

Farmers warned of extremist threat
'They are trying to put you out of business,' consultant tells Ontario Farm Animal Council meeting.
Brian Whitwham, Guelph, April 4, 2007

There's an organized, international underground network of extremists who are targeting agriculture, and Ontario farmers need to beware, a Toronto-based consultant warned yesterday. Leslie Ballentine of Ballentine Communication Group told an audience of roughly 150 farmers at Guelph Place about the threats posed by radical groups who claim to fight agriculture in the name of environmental or animal rights. "They are trying to put you out of business," Ballentine said. "They want to do damage to their targets." Ballentine, who was speaking at the Ontario Farm Animal Council's annual meeting, said extremists started targeting farms in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s and their activities soon spread to the United States and Canada. Today, countries around the world are looking for ways to deal with the criminal incidents hitting farmers, she told the council, which represents Ontario's 40,000 livestock and poultry farmers. Those incidents range from trespassing and minor vandalism to bombs, arson and food supply tampering. Between 1996 and 2004, the United States dealt with about 1,000 criminal acts involving farms, costing about US$110 million, she said. Ballentine said Ontario hasn't had anywhere near that number of problems, but it hasn't been immune. She said extremist groups caused more than $2.5 million damage last year in the agriculture sector. Near Guelph, someone broke into an egg farm in 2005 and published photos allegedly of the chickens there in a University of Guelph publication [i.e., the Peak, U of G's non-hierarchical volunteer-run newspaper] , along with an anonymous account of what was called degrading conditions in the farm. There have also been several acts of vandalism and arson in Guelph urban areas through 2005 and 2006 in which people claimed responsibility through involvement in a group known as the Earth Liberation Front. But none of their targets appeared to be agriculture-related [keep that in mind as you read the rest of this article]. There were fires at the Zellers store on Stone Road, the Church of Our Lady, the Cutten Club and three homes under construction. Police estimate those fires caused more than $500,000 in damage. Ballentine said many of the groups causing damage also wage a public relations war, masking their work in altruistic notions of social justice. "It's amazing the amount of public support they can get by spinning themselves as Robin Hood," Ballentine said. "The bottom line is they're criminals." She said farmers need to realize that some radical networks have become much more advanced than common vandals. She said some groups conduct surveillance [and forays] or even attack third parties -- such as suppliers or financial institutions -- to make their point. "They can find out where you live, where your children go to school [i.e., power mapping] and what your social insurance numbers are," Ballentine said. "The point isn't to scare people, but it's a reminder that there are some bad [and by "bad" she means "good"] people out there. We never know where it will happen next until it happens." She said farmers just need to be more security conscious when it comes to their property, people and the information in their computer records. Paul Mistele, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said the extremist threat against farming is a growing issue. He said Ballentine was invited to speak so farmers would realize they need to think about keeping their homes and businesses safe. While most farmers seem to worry more about their income and the state of the industry, extremism is another challenge they need to consider, Mistele said. "But if it hasn't hit people in the head like a hatchet, it doesn't occur to them."

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